Songkran – another new year’s celebration


songkran-1The new year does not start Jan. 1 in all countries. The Chinese new year starts at a different date, as does Thailand’s, which is called Songkran, held on April 13-15. Given the severe drought Thailand is currently dealing with, and the fact that Songkran is a huge water fight party, the government has asked people to use as little water as possible. Good luck on that one, especially with the tourists who will be having water fights in the streets. From bangkok.com:

“Having fun is a big part of Thai culture, and having fun amidst scorching heat is no exception. The hottest month of the year, April sees the entire country go bananas in friendly water fights and street parties that last nearly a week. During Songkran, most office buildings, banks as well as family-run shops and restaurants shut down completely, while big shopping malls usually remain open.

“Bangkok experiences a mass exodus, as at least half of its residents travel back to their home towns for family re-unions (I’ve read that 200,000 people a day get on a bus out of town). In their place are tourists, who fly into Bangkok, particularly, to enjoy one of the most colourful and festive times of the year.

“Note. Songkran in Thailand is officially observed between the 13th and 15th of April (three days national holiday), although in reality, celebrations often last the entire week!”

Exactly what is Songkran?

“Songkran is the occasion for family re-unions, temple visits and annual house cleaning. Many Thais observe the holidays by spending time with families and friends. Traditionally, Thais perform the Rod Nam Dum Hua ritual on the first day of Songkran, which is officially the National Elderly Day. During the ritual, young people pour fragrant water into the elders’ palms as a gesture of humility and to ask for their blessings.

“The second day of Songkran is officially the National Family Day. Families wake up early and give alms to the monks, then ideally the rest of the day would be spent sharing quality family time together. An important religious ritual on Songkran is ‘Bathing the Buddha image’, in which devout Buddhists pour fragrant water over Buddha statues both at the temple and at home. More religious Thais would engage themselves in Buddhist ceremonies and merit-making activities throughout the holidays.

“Contradictory to what you may have witnessed throughout Songkran, fun-loving Thais don’t just throw water at each other for no good reason (besides having a kick out of seeing other people soaking wet). The real meaning behind the splashes is to symbolically wash off all misfortunes in the past year, thus welcoming the new year with a fresh new start.

“Traditionally, Thais would politely pour a bowl of water on members of the family, their close friends and neighbours. As Songkran has taken a more festive note, a bowl becomes a bucket, garden hose and water guns, and the spirit of holiday merriment is shared amongst all town residents and tourists alike. (Stores are now featuring large displays of huge, pump-action water guns.)

“Before Thailand adopted the international New Year’s Day in 1940, Songkran was calculated based on the solar calendar, which varied from one year to the next. Now Songkran in Bangkok is from 13 to 15 April of every year. Depending on where you are in the country, the dates and period of festivities may vary.

“Probably the largest and wildest crowd in Bangkok is in Silom; the entire 5-kilometer length of this street – mostly known for Patpong – is packed on two levels with thousands of young Thais carrying anything that can spray water. The best part is that you can enjoy the party in relatively dry surroundings by staying on the BTS sky walk that runs above the street. Relatively means that you should still carry any valuable items in a plastic bag.

songkran-in-bangkok“From up there you can witness the full extent of the game: a huge colorful crowd of smiling young Thais slowly walking between two rows of stalls selling water guns, food, soft drinks and of course, lots of beer. The highlight is to spot the firetrucks ambushed at each intersection with their incredibly powerful water hoses. The crowd is actually delighted to be hosed down as the heat can reach 40˚C in the sun.

“If you like the idea of getting soaked from head to toe in the middle of a wild party, be sure to drop by Khao San Road. (This where I stayed on my recent Bangkok visit. Most of the backpacking crowd stays and parties here.)

“The entire length of Khao San Road is turned into an almighty water fight, and once you’re in, you’re going to get absolutely wet! There are police checkpoints set up at both ends of the street to confiscate bottles, cans and the white powder that is usually rubbed on people’s faces. Don’t worry though, you can buy all the alcohol you’re likely to need inside one of the many bars that stay open throughout the festival, some with DJs set up inside plastic shelters and podiums for dancing.

“A word of advice though: be careful on the tiled floors that become like ice rinks because it’s a fairly common sight to see inebriated young tourists slipping, sliding and ending up with their whisky bucket all over the floor.

“If you prefer a more traditional Songkran, head over to Phra Pradaeng district where the Thai-Raman communities live out their Songkran traditions. Here, the celebrations take place about a week later than in central Bangkok and are filled with cultural significance. You will not only get splashed here, but also enjoy an array of cultural activities, such as the Thai-Ramn flag ceremony, ‘saba’ game, Raman dances, boat races, floral floats parade, and many more.
“Sacred celebrations are held at Sanam Luang, opposite the Grand Palace. Here on the first day of Songkran the Buddha image ‘Buddhasihing’ is brought out from the National Museum and escorted along the streets for people to sprinkle water on.

“The image is then located there for three days, so people who missed the procession can pay their respects. Other merit-making customs in Bangkok include the building of sand stupas, which are then decorated with colorful flags and flowers. These can be seen around key temples in the Rattanokosin area.”

2bags won’t be in Bangkok for this celebration but we’ll try to show what happens in Hua Hin.

About 2bagsandapack

Lifetime journalist, author, magazine editor and publisher, now semi-retired and traveling the world. My plan, after living in Costa Rica for 14 months, was to visit a new country in southern Europe every three months to experience the culture and the challenge of adapting to a new environment, while on a fixed income. That plan was sidetracked when I was offered a job in Indonesia, providing an opportunity to explore Asia. Indonesia lasted for a 4 wonderful years but I have now moved on to Hua Hin, Thailand.
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